If you’re a wine lover, you might consider raising a glass to our primitive ancestors since the origins of winemaking date back to the late stone age. (Yep, Fred and Wilma Flintstone were totally unwinding with fermented grape juice after the closing credits.) But if you’re a vegan wine lover, don’t put that glass to your lips just yet: You’re going to need to know more than just ancient history before you imbibe. The winemaking process has been refined considerably over the past nine thousand years, resulting in an adult beverage that’s far more enjoyable than a cup of grape juice gone bad. These developments, though, are owed in part to the fact that fruit from the vine is not the only ingredient involved in modern winemaking. So is wine vegan? To answer that question we’ll need to take a closer look at how wine is made.
Is Wine Vegan? For the Most Part, No. But Here’s How to Find Ones That Are
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Is Wine Vegan?
We don‘t want to leave our vegan friends on the edge of their seats, so let’s get straight to the point: The majority of wine is not vegan. In fact, many wines aren’t even vegetarian. Vegan wines, however, do exist and they’re growing in popularity among vegan and non-vegan drinkers alike. In other words, you can maintain a strictly vegan lifestyle and still enjoy a glass of high-quality Pinot when the mood strikes. The only catch is that while vegan wine isn’t too hard to find, it can be tricky for the average consumer to identify (more on that later). So, why in the world would wine not be vegan?
What Non-Vegan Ingredients Are Used in Winemaking?
By now you’ve been tipped off to a surprising truth: The winemaking process can, and often does, include animal products...but why? Karen MacNeil, wine professional and award-winning author of The Wine Bible, explains that non-vegan ingredients are introduced to wine during fining—a process that “helps remove excess tannin...making the wine softer and less bitter, and improving its balance.” Fining also clarifies wine, resulting in a color that lets light shine through.
Per MacNeil, casein (milk protein), albumin (egg white), isinglass (fish bladder) and gelatin are among the most common fining agents used, and none of them are vegan-friendly because they are all animal-derived. It’s worth noting that these agents don’t remain in the wine you drink, since their purpose is to bind to and separate “unstable proteins” from the liquid that ends up in your glass. Still, many vegans would object not only to the consumption of animal products but also their use at any stage in the manufacturing process. But here’s some good news: There are actually vegan fining agents. Bentonite, a natural clay, is a big one—it works in the same manner as the protein-based agents mentioned above and is frequently used by winemakers.
How to Shop for Vegan Wine
Here’s the deal: There are plenty of vegan wines out there—having been fined with bentonite or not fined at all—but in many cases, you’d never know it when you’re browsing the selection of your local wine shop. The specifics of the fining process are so technical, you’ll never encounter any revealing information in the flowery description on the back of the bottle. That said, the demand for vegan wine has been growing and because a good number of producers have caught on, you can occasionally find wines that are clearly marked as vegan right on the label.
Don’t give up hope if you don’t find a bottle that boasts the vegan seal of approval, though: You may never know if a ‘fined’ wine was made with bentonite or a non-vegan agent, but all ‘unfined’ wines are fair game for vegans. Unfined wines are growing in popularity, in part MacClean says, because “many winemakers believe fining can harm the flavor and texture of the wine.” The label won’t tell you one way or another, but the purists who produce unfined wines are often small-production winemakers with a cult following. The takeaway? Find a store with knowledgeable staff, then ask for something ‘unfined’ and ye shall receive. (Pro tip: If you have to travel to find a retailer with a decent selection of vegan wines, bring home a case of the good stuff—just be sure to store your wine stash the right way.)
And How to Get Vegan Wine Delivered
Online wine-buying is super convenient. If you live in a small town with limited access to vegan-friendly wines, you can browse our favorites and get ‘em shipped straight to your address. (Pro tip: if the retailers don’t ship to your area, you can use WineSearcher.com to locate the very same wine from someplace that does.) For a comprehensive list of quality wines that are made using a vegan-friendly production method, check out this list courtesy of SevenFifty.com—a well-respected platform used by importers, producers, distributors and buyers—and then do a little internet recon to find the bottle that’s right for you.
Still skeptical that vegan wines are as quaffable as the regular stuff? These three bottles will make a believer out of you.
1. brand Riesling Trocken, Pfalz, Germany, 1l 2018
Bone-dry with hints of stone fruit, this Riesling is so refreshing you’ll be grateful for the extra 250 milliliters. What’s the best way to enjoy this cool beverage? This one is a cheese plate’s best friend and it goes great with spicy food, too.
Buy It ($17)
2. burlotto Langhe Nebbiolo 2016
Spicy and pleasantly floral, this elegant Nebbiolo boasts the complexity and balance of a much more expensive wine. Pair this with an umami-driven meal or sip it on its own—either way, it’s sure to please.
3. vinho Verde 2019 Veve
Easy-drinking and budget-friendly, this slightly effervescent and highly gulpable white will go down easy at brunch (or anytime really).
Buy It ($10)